The BMI is complete horse puckey
Now for those of you in the US, I know you’ve heard of the BMI (Not the music group, I’m talking about the Body Mass Index) if you’ve ever gone in for a check up. You might not remember it, but it is a standard thing in today’s “modern” medicine. For those of you outside of the US, you’ve probably also heard of it as well, and probably even had it checked, but I’m hoping where you live doesn’t put as much stake in a bunch of junk science bullshit as we do in the states.
So, as the title of this article says, the BMI is bullshit. Why is that? Is it because it doesn’t take into account muscle mass or bone density? Is it because it has unhealthy weights listed for the “optimal” weight per height ratios? Could it possibly be because it labels people with less than 10% body fat as morbidly obese the same as someone with over 40% body fat?
Well…yes to all of those and more. Thanks to the continued usage of the BMI, we are seeing news stories constantly about the “OBESITY EPIDEMIC!” and other such panic driven stories. When the BMI says that a person who is the pinnacle of health is morbidly obese as well as actual morbidly obese people, of course we’re going to have a so called epidemic on our hands. It’s because of faulty numbers and bullshit science!
Now for the sake of openness, and to get it out of the way, I will say that my BMI number is around 47. Using the chart from Rush University Medical Center, it says that for me to have an optimal BMI, I should weigh no more than 158lbs (71.3 kilos). I would literally be able to bench press myself if I weighed that little.
Harvey, on the other hand, has a BMI of 33, which labels him as obese. He has less than 20% body fat, and is 6’3” tall (around 190cm). The chart at Rush puts his optimal weight between 156 and 199lbs (70.76 to 90.26 kilos).
So, now that we have that out of the way, and the fat comments can be dispensed right into the trash like usual, let’s look into why the BMI is bullshit.
The BMI was invented by Adolphe Quetelet, who was NOT a doctor. Well…not a medical doctor at least. Adolphe was a Belgian astronomer, mathematician, statistician, and sociologist (wow, now that’s a padded resume right there), who developed what he called the “Quetelet Index” back in the mid 1800s.
I want to point out something important before we move on to the bullshit that we see today.
Adolphe himself said explicitly that the “Quetelet Index” (Later called the BMI by Ancel Keys in 1972) could not and should not be used to indicate the so called level of fatness in an individual. Remember, this guy was a mathematician, not a medical doctor. He was approached back then to produce a quick and easy way to measure the degree of obesity of the general population so that the government knew where to allocate its resources.
There’s just one giant, morbidly obese problem. When Adolphe’s data didn’t match his formula, he changed his formula to match his data! Seriously, his “final” formula is to take one’s weight in kilograms, and divide that by one’s height in meters squared. Remember folks, it’s only wrong to rig the formula to match the data when your namesake is on the line! (Seriously though, don’t do stuff like this, OK? People over 100 years later are still suffering from this guy’s bullshit.
Not to mention that it ignores measurements such as waist size (which by the way is a rather good way to check obesity…just saying), and the fact that this formula is only supposed to apply to the concept of the average man (which remember is also how we came up with the whole 2.5 kids bullshit, averages are just that….averages. They don’t work well on individuals.) Add to the fact that his data was collected by checking the percentage of fat of white male cadavers who were in the “middle class” range, and you’ve got a recipe for bad science. And I mean like….BAD science…life ruining science…CONVERSION THERAPY LEVEL bad science.
As NPR so politely puts it, the BMI is mathematical snake oil. It allows insurance companies in the US to charge higher premiums to people with higher BMIs, regardless of whether or not the person is actually obese or overweight. It allows doctors to be lazy and not actually check out the reason behind why someone might have a higher BMI. It also is used as a sort of gatekeeper to people needing medications or mental health who are seeking public assistance.
Remember, the CREATOR of the BMI even said that it shouldn’t be used as a standard! So why are we using it as a standard?! Oh, that’s right, because people conveniently forgot that part after World War II and it was the insurance industries and their complaints about the increased mortality and morbidity of their overweight policyholders (life insurance mind you) that caused people to grab the formula and go, “This is now a valid measure of obesity!”
The BMI became an international standard for obesity measurement in the 1980s, even though people knew it was flawed and was not a good indicator of individual health and obesity. Hell, the World Health Organization adopted it in 1995 as their “quick and easy” tool to determine the level of obesity in a person….going against the fact that the inventor had no interest in studying obesity and was approached to come up with a formula, which he then decided to see if he could create by applying probability calculus (which is made up made up numbers? I don’t know, I still struggle with Trigonometry) to human physical characteristics, and when that didn’t work…he rigged the formula to match his results, and then told people not to use it as an indicator of obesity. Oh…and the fact that it used the “average man” for the formula, which as we all know is not a good thing to use for individuals.
But that’s not even the most fucked up part of this whole bullshit problem. In 1998, the National Institutes of Health lowered the threshold for “overweight” from 27.8 to 25 so as to match “international guidelines”. Guess what it did?
If you guessed that it moved over 30 million Americans who the night before were deemed healthy over to the overweight category, you would be correct. Overnight we developed an obesity epidemic in the United States, all thanks to some tweeking of numbers on a formula that was bullshit to star with.
Does this mean that we don’t have problems with obesity in the United States and elsewhere? Oh hell no! I’m living proof that there’s a problem, but that problem isn’t because of lies and bullshit, it’s a socioeconomic problem with deep roots in capitalist ideologies and bad food being affordable while good and healthy food is often out of reach for people who aren’t in the ever shrinking middle to upper class. It lies with the fact that we don’t promote exercise and activity like we used to, and that we’ve made places like the YMCA and low income accessible gyms into exclusive health places that you have to have a good chunk of disposable income to access. Hell, Harvey and I pay $45 a month for access to our gym, and that is after all of the breaks we get because he’s disabled, because I am out of a job, and because his doctor had to write him a prescription just to help cover the costs!
But that’s a topic for another day, today we were to discuss the bullshit known as the BMI. So…why do doctors still use it? Why is it still a “standard of health”? Mostly laziness and pushback to change, to be honest. Insurance companies hold on to it so that they can make more money and fleece their customers over an arbitrary number. But again, that’s a topic for a different day.
As always, I will post a link to NPR’s article on the topic, as well as a few other articles for your reading pleasure in the description box. Also, look up the movie “Fat Head” which was made in response to Morgan Spurlock’s “Supersize Me”. The movie covers the topic of the BMI and many other so called “scientific” ideas regarding health and fitness that many of us believe today. I would also suggest reading the article “Commentary: Origins and evolution of body mass index (BMI): continuing saga, which I have also linked below.
Oh, and by the way, to all those who like to scream “STATISTICS ARE BULLSHIT!”…this is one that you can definitely scream about. In fact, I suggest you study up on this topic, write to your elected officials, and push for this outdated, fake, bullshit standard to be removed and tossed in the trash where it belongs.
RUSH Medical Center:
“Top 10 Reasons Why The BMI Is Bogus”
“Commentary: Origins and evolution of body mass index (BMI): continuing saga”